Season: 23-31 January 2021
Waiting For God
Written by Michael Aitkens
Directed by Barry Grant
Season: 30 September - 10 October 2020
Diana - Marilyn Ollett
Tom - Roderick Turner
Jane - Marcella Herrera
Harvey - Braydon Priest
Sarah - Sylvia Barnes
Geoffrey - Matthew Holland
Reverend Denise/Doctor - Pat Hannah
Milly / Doctor - Melanie Turner
Basil / Undertaker - Ian Beswick
Reviewed by Sophie Ricketts for Backstage Christchurch
Waiting For God is a British sitcom that ran from 1990 to 1994 concerning Tom and Diana, two spirited residents of a retirement home in Bournemouth who spend their time together trying to wreak polite havoc on members of the management, while waxing lyrical about their approaching mortality. It was written by Michael Aitkens, and he adapted his work into a play in 2005.
This buddy comedy rests firmly on the shoulders of its two most central characters: Tom and Diana. As sneering sceptic Diana, Marilyn Ollett was perfectly sarcastic, snarky and sharp. Despite her character finding the misery in almost any situation I would place my bet that Marilyn was probably having the most fun out of the entire cast! Her dialogue hit the majority of the comic bullseyes. Her affable and rather innocent foil Tom was charmingly portrayed by Roderick Turner. He brought an innocence to the role which I found cute and cuddly.
As the pious and pitiful Jane, Marcella Herrera was suitably mousey. It was refreshing to see her character’s confidence grow across the arc of the play. Braydon Priest played an easily detestable Harvey, his delivery acerbic and his swagger nauseatingly unwarranted.
I felt the show took a little while to hit its stride, I’m hoping that was merely a reflection of some first night jitters. By act two we were humming along at a much smoother pace, with better voice projection.
If you’re an existing fan of the TV series you’ll enjoy this production for trying to remain as faithful as possible to the existing characterisations of the Bayview residents. The play showcases memorable moments and highlights from each of the five seasons. For those who haven’t seen it before, or simply can’t remember, you’ll enjoy chuckling away at the comical situations and occasionally poignant observations being delivered by some of these scrappy seniors. You don’t need to have a pre-existing knowledge of the series or characters to have a laugh with them, or at their expense.
The director’s note in the programme makes mention of the fact that since this is a play adapted from screen one of the challenges is that TV shows live in small moments, with many short scenes. What this translates to is more scene changes that I cared to count; though each one was handled with swift and measured choreography by an impressive stage crew of six, and underscored with peppy instrumental music to try and keep some momentum going. However, at least half of them felt completely unnecessary. Given how large the stage area is I wondered why they didn’t leave some set pieces on display permanently and merely address the changes by lighting different areas of the stage to mark these transitions. I’m presuming costume changes might have been part of the equation.
There were a couple of really stand out details I’d love to mention. Firstly, I absolutely detest stage productions which try and sidestep the use of real food and drink so it was such a joy to see real food and drink on stage during the scenes which called for it; especially the dining room scene during which it needed to look terribly unappetising, which it did. Hats off to properties manager Sally Wilson. I also thought the costuming was extremely well executed; each character had a distinctive personality which was accentuated by their style of dress, and made the passage of time noticeable too. My thanks to Sarah Cassidy for her attention to detail; the wedding dress alone was a real over the top treat and I felt it was “very Jane”.
At its heart this production is about dignity, respect for the elderly, and allowing them to have a voice even after they move past the point of independence. The TV series did a marvellous job of raising these voices to the forefront and Elmwood Players have remained true to that purpose with this production.
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